Towards Santiago

Pawns are usually considered the least important pieces in a chess game. By itself, a pawn is doomed to die, but their strength lies in the cohesion with each other. We arrived in Redondela after 43 km of walking in just one day, exhausted, our legs were drained, but we met new pilgrims on the way, who would have shared the walk with us, and just like pawns we instilled force into each other. This metaphor became even more fitting, when, once we sat in a Bar to have Breakfast, before starting to walk, we were approached by a strange man who wanted to play chess with us. So, we started the day playing chess and discussing about German philosophers and writers, before effectively begin what we planned. In the end, despite waking up early, we left Redondela relatively late, but this is also the “Camino de Santiago”.

There was nothing special along the way from Redondela to Pontevedra, but I would like to stress out the matter of the equipment. We were surprised in the middle of the forest by heavy rain, and walking in the mud with non-waterproof shoes is not properly like a thermal mud massage.  So, if you plan to do the “Camino” I strongly recommend to bring very good and comfortable shoes (Hiking boots are an overkill for the Camino but there are some shoes which are something in the middle between hiking boots and sneakers that are excellent on these types of grounds).

Arrived in Pontevedra all wet and dirty, we took some time to visit the city. This small medieval helmet is a precious piece of jewellery nestled on the Ria de Pontevedra, and it is probably the most characteristic city we met along the road. Of course, we started from the “Iglesia de La Virgen Peregrina” (church of the pilgrim Virgin). Its round façade is already peculiar by itself but entering is even more impressive. The statue of the virgin dominating from the Chancel above the altar, with her orange coat, the pilgrim’s hat and the stick is there to tell the pilgrims that they are at a turning point in their itinerary. It is also very suggestive to walk down in Praza da Estrela and have a glance at the “San Francesco Convent” where we had the opportunity to attend the mass during the Holy communion. I also recommend to get lost in the cobblestones paved streets and little alleys, maybe in this wandering, you’ll have the chance to reach the Praza Da Lena or the Ruinas de San Domingos and remain enchanted by the charming and warm atmosphere the city can offer. 


The day after we walked down the ancient “Ponte do Burgo” bridge, and we decided not to continue on the traditional way but to pick the so-called “Variante Espiritual”, a special variant of the “Camino Portugues” which passes by monasteries and allows the pilgrim to travel along the Rio Ulla on a boat, reliving the last trip of Santiago, when its ashes  were delivered to what now is called Santiago de Compostela by his two disciples: Atanasio and Teodoro. Passing by the swampland of “Parque da Seca” we reached the small town of Combarro.  

This city has a peculiarity: it is filled with some structures resembling little temples, the Horreo, even though these are not real temples. These structures, which are typical of the Galician region, are just warehouses for wheat. They are built in this peculiar way because Galicia is a very rainy area, so it is useful not to have the wheat on the ground and in addition they feature breaches in the walls so that the wind can keep it dry. From Combarro the route climbs up the hill. The atmosphere that day was evocative thanks to the fog we met during our climb in the forest to the monastery of Saint Mary of Armenteira. 

We spent one night in Armenteira and apart from the monastery there is nothing around. However, there is the possibility to assist to the mass in the monastery where the priest together with the nuns pronounces the blessing to the pilgrim. Attending it is strongly recommended. Even though the spiritual variant is not chosen by many pilgrims, in the small hostel we got the chance to know many new wayfarers and meet again some old faces. 

Leaving Armenteira at our shoulders, we traversed the “Ruta da Pedra e da Auga”, a spectacular route which follows the flow of the river “Rego Da Armenteira”, trough musky trees, small waterfalls and leaps where the water gushes fast streaming down the hill passing below the watermills that crowd the path. Along the way, we even found a village made of stone, with its bakery, the church, farmers, animals and an unavoidable Horreo. 

The path leads to Vilanova de Arousa, a little village lying on the Ria de Arousa. Here you can try the mussels and other kinds of shellfishes, which are typical of this region. Indeed, the Ria de Arousa is thronged with platforms for the farming of mussels. The Zamburinhas are strongly recommended, taste it if you pass by this region!!

Finally, the last day of “Camino” arrived. We boarded the ship which would have brought us from Vilanova to Padron along the only Via Crucis on water existing on earth. Crossing Vikings vessels (yes they arrived until these remote places) and small islands and patch of lands surmounted only by crosses drowned in the fog we reached the city where Santiago’s disciples landed. In the Padron’s cathedral, there is “El Pedron”, this Roman votive altarpiece of granite which, according to the legend, represents the piece of land where they made landfall bringing with them the rests of the Apostol. 

We arrived quite early in the morning there, but we could not miss the chance to taste the “Pimientos de Padron”, so we had our breakfast with this typical plate of fried green peppers which have a peculiarity: the majority of them is not spicy but some of them are. In Spanish, there is the saying: “Pimientos de Padron unos pican Y otros no”, namely one is spicy and the other not. 

After this light breakfast, we slowly approached our destination, roughly 25 km separated us from our goal. It was emotionally intense when, from far away, you could look ahead and see the town of Santiago de Compostela in all its splendour. 

But even more heart-rending, was the arrival in “Praza do Obradoiro”, the majesty of the Cathedral provoking intense sensations in the pilgrims who arrive there and release their joy with chants and shoutings. In the square, the melting pot of the “Camino de Santiago” shows itself in all its glory, with a mixture of languages and sounds filling the air. The atmosphere is fantastic, absolutely astonishing, set in the marvellous frame of the French neoclassical palace, Pazo da Roxoi facing the cathedral. Exactly at its basement, we lied down, backs against the columns, bags hurled at our feet, the tiredness in our legs and our faces, but jet the happiness of living that moment. Looking at the cathedral’s façade we took the chance to free our thoughts and relax for a while. The spirits of all the pilgrims filling the square are almost palpable and the emotions cannot be described by words. 

In the end, we collected the “Compostela” an official document of the catholic church, completely written in Latin, even our names were translated, certifying that we accomplished the Camino. Usually, in the afternoon there is mass for pilgrims where the “botafumiero”, an immense incense burner, is swung from the ceiling in the central nave (in my opinion to cover the pilgrim’s smell). Unluckily, the cathedral was under construction and so we could not attend this spectacular event. Luckily, we still had the possibility to visit San James’s tomb, our final goal. 

Finally, after taking off the pilgrims’ cloaks, we enjoyed the nightlife in Santiago with a special Galician dinner and the “Queimada”. The latter was the last surprise this trip reserved us. It is a typical drink, prepared in Galicia, garnished with sugar, lemon, and orange peels. But the peculiarity stands in the fact that it is served inside a cauldron, the waiter sets fire to the liquor, mixes it and pours it in the cauldron while the customers have to pronounce a sort of magic spell to ward off the devil. For us, it was a farewell ritual, but even if my legs hurt and the ligaments disagree, I hope it was just a goodbye to Santiago. Because the Camino will always remain in our souls, and I am quite sure it will call us back to Santiago again in the future.

Camino Portugués de la Costa

Yes! This is not a word I would use ordinarily. But “Yes” was my answer when one of my best friends, Edoardo, proposed me to do the Camino De Santiago. We were super-excited to start this adventure, and when the Pandemic spread all over Europe, I was worried the whole trip was going to have to be cancelled. In the end, we managed to arrive in Porto and to start this experience, often considered an initiation route by young Europeans. 

Starting from the Sao Bento station we headed west, to reach the coast, passing by some of the suburbs of the city. It was definitely not the prettiest landscape we encountered on the route, but it had some nice houses. Once reached the coast, in Matosinhos, we met a fellow that would have accompanied us for a big part of the journey: the Atlantic Ocean. Glancing at its vastity after more than one hour of walking in the suburbs filled our souls with joy and enthusiasm. We walked on a wooden gangway on the sand, which was almost perfect. I say almost, because at the very beginning, just after the lighthouse of Matosinhos, the gangplank is surrounded by the sea on the left and by a giant refinery on the right. 

Besides this little inconvenience, the landscape is absurdly enchanting. After passing through small villages of fishermen with their little, colourful houses on the shore surrounded by ingenious lobster cages, crossing wooden bridges, and walking by native houses transformed in museums of traditional arts and craftmanship, just before arriving at our first destination, we decided to walk the last kms directly on the shore. We took off our shoes and let the sand massage our feet. Leaving our talks for the day and our tiredness behind us, together with our footprints. Every new beginning makes a person euphoric and guided by this euphoria we walked for 39 km on the very first day. Maybe, thinking about what would have happened later, it was not the best choice, but yet we arrived in Vila Do Conde, where the grandiose Santa Clara’s convent welcomed us at the entrance of the village, just past the Ave river.

Vila do Conde is a nice small village and the only attraction is an old vessel in the port. From Vila do Conde, crossing wheat fields while waving at and chatting with farmers and breeders we moved to a very tiny village, next to the sea, Marinhas. Here, apart from our hostel, there was only the church of “San Miguel”. Fun fact: we arrived there right on the day when, according to the Catholic church, the Archangels are celebrated, so the only two streets which composed the village were lightened for the celebration. 

On the third day, the way tilted a bit upward, but in order to start properly the day, we had a little break for breakfast. We stop by at the bar “O Lampao”, which in my opinion is a must-see for anyone who attempts the “Camino Portugues de la costa”. Filled with pictures of Ernesto Che Guevara (and sometimes also of Fidel  Castro), with a world map on the wall, where you can see the countries of origin of the pilgrims who visited the place (there were even some from Greenland!!), and decorated with symbols of the Camino and a strange 3-wheels bike at the entrance (always accompanied by a Cuban and a Bob Marley flag), the bar is already a tidbit all on its own. The owner is also a very kind person, always available to help you, and if he can’t satisfy your requests, he will find a way to ensure you’ll be happy during the stay. 

After this small stop, we kept walking, passing by old churches on the top of hills, small villages, and strange works of art made with shoes to show the way. After passing a long steel bridge designed by Gustave Eiffel, we arrived in one of the finest hamlets we found on our way: Viana do Castelho. 

A small sore point here, the Albergue dos Peregrinos, where usually one can find accommodation for 5/6 euros, costed 20 euros per person and was not even among the best we found along the route. 

The cost of these “Albergue Municipal” raised because of Covid-19, but usually it was among 6-8 euros per person. This was maybe the only big mistake we did during the holiday. However, in this hostel we met our very first stranger on our way. I had been wondering where other pilgrims were since the first moment, because we didn’t meet any, but soon after my first complaint we met two other French pilgrims, who were coming back towards Porto. As soon as we spotted them, one of them collapsed to the ground, she fainted!! We tried to help them and called the medical aid, but after that I stopped complaining about the fact that we did not meet anyone else along the route. 

Anyways, in the Albergue de Peregrinos in Viana do Castelho, we had the pleasure to meet a young woman from Berlin. We had some nice chat, even though she criticized the way I used to compute the expenses, and we started living the real spirit of the “Camino de Santiago”: the sharing and communion. We had a beer in the historic centre of the medieval village, where she introduced us to other pilgrims she met on her way. It was astonishing to see how at the same table we could speak Italian, French, English, German, a bit of Hungarian and when the waiter was with us even a bit of Esperanto (according to him, it was Italian). We were deeply saddened when the morning after we had to leave this marvellous village. 

But the way in front of us was still too long to think about ceasing our march. We started very early in the morning, the sun still had to raise (Edoardo loves walking in the freezing cold of the morning, I hated it and him in those moments), left the city centre and headed towards the coast, and walked along the sea, through shores and fields brushed by the fog, which, similarly to a ghost, was gently escaping after the appearance of the first sunrays. On our way to Caminha we encountered another travel companion, the rain, which caught us not so inadvertently. 

I have been a scout for 11 years, and Lord Robert Baden-Powell, the movement founder, used to say: “There is no such a thing as good or bad weather, but good and bad equipment”. Well, we did not have the right equipment, we could only protect the backpacks and the upper part of the body, but our shoes weren’t waterproof. But B.P., as the scouts call their founder, said a much more important quote, which also became the movement’s motto: “Be Prepared”. And we were prepared for it, we knew it would have arrived sooner or later, as Dante said “The arrow, seen beforehand, slacks his flight”, so, in the end, it was not a big problem for us.

We managed to arrive to Caminha and take the boat to cross the Minho, the river which separates Portugal from Spain. The boat takes 15 minutes to cross it, but thanks to the time zones it took 1 hour and 15 minutes to us, so keep it in mind if you are planning to do the Camino Portuguese da Costa, because you can happen to find the hostels on the other side closed. Crossing the Minho, you pass from Portugal to Spain, from Francesinha (if you don’t know what it is, read my previous article) to “Pulpo a la Gallega”, from Obrigado to Gracias and from SuperBock to Estrella. Also the environment started to change, there are more forests and meadows. For the night, we slept in A Guarda, near to Castro de Santa Trega, a Galician Fort build in 100 B.C.

Castro de Santa Trega

On the fifth day, the due stop-over should have been Mougas, at 20 km from A Guarda. However, we arrived there relatively early at 12 a.m., and we were welcomed by the stone in Mougas signalling the way, surrounded by thousands of pebbles, some of them painted with cartoon characters and symbols. Since we didn’t want to waste a sunny day perfect for walking, we decided to keep on going and arrived in Baiona, 15 km after. Note that if you plan the trip with google maps, you’ll be very wrong and underestimate the distances. The Camino does not follow the algorithms Google suggests, and usually, it takes more time and more km to walk along the Camino. Another thing to keep in mind, above all in this piece of the way, is that the Camino is in general well signalled, but just like the staircase in Harry Potter, the arrows like to change. It can be useful to download the app “Caminotool”. In Baiona, we had the chance to taste another Galician’s speciality: the Zorza, a marinated diced pork loin, topped with paprika.

Always because of lack of time, the day after we were forced to put toghether two stages of the walk, thus left Baiona early in the morning and through the Romanic bridge of San Pedro de la Ramalosa we headed towards Vigo. Vigo is the biggest city in Galicia and indeed it took us more than 2 hours to cross it. But it deserves a stop-over, it is a lively town on the sea, with its energetic and vivid nightlife, and a lovely historical centre. Unfortunately, we could not stop there, due to lack of time, so after lunch we kept going in order to reach Redondela.

In Redondela, there is nothing very special, but before arriving there, the Camino passes by a viewpoint, called “The Best bench in Redondela”. This is a small green bench, for maximum two people, nested on a rock at the top of a mountain. It has a 180 degrees view on the “Ria de Vigo”, a huge river where Vigo sits on, and it should be astonishing to just sit there and rest the feet and the eyes with such a view. Unluckily, we arrived to the bench in the exact moment when heavy rain started. We were unable to see anything, due to the presence of clouds, fog and rain, but trust me, if the weather conditions allow it you should go there.   

Luckily, though, the surprise did not finish for the day, and in the hostel, we met two German guys, who became our friends along the route. Similarly to what happens during life, in the Camino you sometimes cross your path with people who will join you for part of the way. This is what happened to us. After many days of walking, we had two new companions, two new friends who were living the same adventure, and this is much better than watching a splendid panorama from a bench with good weather. Friendship is something that can last a lifetime or few days, but in the end, no one will regret about that good time spent together.